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Android Developers Invited to Get Ready for Chrome OS

Google is close to bring Play to Chrome OS, making Android applications and media available to Chromebook users.

Google presented the first Chromebook prototype in 2010, with the first commercial notebooks coming to the market in the following year. Five years later, the Chromebook has managed to gather some market share especially in US where schools are now “buying more Chromebooks than all other devices combined” and “Chromebooks topped Macs” during Q1 of 2016, according to Google citing IDC. One of the factors accounting for the slow adoption of Chromebooks has been the inability to run native Windows applications and lack of support for running certain applications offline. We should mention though that enterprises have had the opportunity to run legacy Windows applications via Receiver for Chrome, a Citrix desktop virtualization solution.

To cover the gap of missing applications, Google has decided to bring the whole Play store and its over 1.5M applications to Chrome OS. They announced at the recent I/O 2016 that certain Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Chromebases will be able to access Play when M53 is made available in September. Users will be able to use Microsoft Apps developed for Android, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook or Skype. Also, they will have the option to run them offline, as it is the case of Google Play Music.

Not all Chromebooks will get Play. This page lists devices that have qualified for running Android apps. Developers will be able to run their applications on Acer Chromebook R11, Asus Chromebook Flip and Chromebook Pixel (2015) starting in early June to get them ready when Play is opened to all Chromebooks. But not all applications will run on all Chromebooks due to lack of certain functionality and sensors. While data from GPS sensors can be replaced with location collected from Wi-Fi networks, applications requiring phone connectivity won’t run on Chromebooks because these are usually not equipped with one.

Developers are encouraged by Google to prepare their applications for Chromebook. They need to address the following issues:

  • Touchscreen and sensors should be set as not required in the manifest.
  • Custom IMEs, home screens, launchers and widgets are not supported.
  • Use the provided multi-windows support. Android on Chrome OS will be able to run 3 windows at once in portrait, landscape and maximized mode.
  • Update the applications to make use of keyboard, mouse and trackpad.
  • Back up data externally to be able to restore it easily in case the user replaces the Chromebook with another.
  • Prepare for Android N so the application will be ready when Chromebooks will be updated to run it.

Organizations will be able to centrally manage Android applications on their Chromebooks by pushing/removing  certain applications, whitelisting or blacklisting some of them, including selectively across various departments.

Google has chosen to run Android in a container on Chrome OS, according to Kan Liu, Product Management Director of Chrome OS. Android accesses hardware through Chrome OS’ stack with little performance penalty. Applications should run well considering Chromebooks have usually more powerful hardware than phones.

For more details on making an Android application run properly on Chrome OS we recommend the session Bring Your Android App to Chrome OS from Google I/O 2016.

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